Branding by Life Stage

There are many valid approaches to brand planning and development. And, depending on the life stage of your business, one may be more appropriate for your business or brand. But one thing is constant: there are essential elements of research that must be included in your brand planning process, regardless of the life stage of your business.


Most start-ups use the vision of the founders of the organization as the primary element that drives the brand. For start-ups, it is the role of the brand strategist to help pull that vision out of the founder and integrate it with the needs of the end-user. In an ideal world, start-up organizations have also spent a considerable amount of time engaging the end-user of their product or service, so this is a fairly straightforward exercise. Research required: 1) Stakeholder interviews with founder and key staff or investors; 2) Depending upon the size of the business or the market, customer surveying or interviewing of key customer groups; 3) Synthesis.

Fast-Growth Companies

Having once viewed themselves as tightly knit, outrageously nimble organizations that are highly responsive to the market, many start-ups-turned-fast-growth companies undergo rapid internal expansion that wreaks havoc on their fundamental beliefs about who they are. In the process of forming much needed divisions and departments, management structures and human resource policies, the founders—once renegade entrepreneurial spirits—find that continuing to encourage that culture as the company grows has consequences. Even in the most entrepreneurial company, not everyone at every level in the company can be a renegade. It is at this stage that the founders’ vision of the company and the rank-and-file’s perception become very different from one another. This presents a critical opportunity for the organization: to synchronize these perceptions and define the organization’s brand from the inside out, rather than waiting for the market to decide for them. Inside-out branding focuses on these questions:

  • Who are we now?

  • What do we value?

  • How are we different from other companies and competitors?

  • How should who we are internally be reflected to the outside world?

Research required: 1) Stakeholder interviews with key management staff; 2) Quantitative research to involve the whole organization in the effort and to structure a shared foundation; 3) Qualitative research with specific employee groups at the various levels to test to the authenticity of the brand direction identified through 1 & 2; and 4) Customer surveying or interviews to insure that the position the organization is taking will also resonates with the external audiences.

Established, Customer-Driven Companies

Eventually the internal structures catch up with the growth of the company. It is at this stage that the brand, once intimately tied to the founders’ vision, takes on a life of its own. At this stage, the brand must be carefully managed. Driven by the competitive market, the attributes of the product or service, and the culture of the company as developed to this point, the external brand is developed by identifying the unique place where these elements intersect.

  • What are the anticipated changes in our market environment?

  • Who are our competitors now and what can we anticipate in the future?

  • What do our key target audiences want and need of us?

  • How do they perceive us differently from our competitors?

  • Do we have the capacity to meet their needs no and into the future?

Research required:

  1. Stakeholder interviews with key management staff

  2. Competitive Analysis

  3. Analysis of Customer Data to identify the “best customer”

  4. Segmentation of the “best customer” to identify behavioral expectation related to the brand.

  5. Quantitative Customer Surveys

  6. Qualitative research to test the authenticity of the brand direction.

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